The most-watched royal events in TV history: From the coronation to Harry and Meghan's interview

Katie Archer
·6-min read

Watch: The most-watched royal TV moments ever

Crowds may be banned from paying their respects in person at Prince Philip's funeral under current coronavirus restrictions, but scores of viewers are expected to tune in to the TV coverage.

Royal events – whether they're funerals, weddings, or tell-all interviews – are always guaranteed to be a ratings hit, as key moments through the generations have shown.

Read more: The 30 guests confirmed to be attending Prince Philip's funeral

Take a look back at some of the most-watched royal events in the UK as the nation sat down to see a slice of history unfolding.

Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, 1953

H.M. the Queen wearing St. Edward's Crown and holding the Royal Sceptre and the Rod of Equity, waits to receive the homage of her peers after her Coronation. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
The Queen at her coronation. (Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The Queen made TV history by becoming the first British monarch to have her coronation televised.

She was just 25 when she succeeded her father, King George VI, and 27 million people tuned in to watch the historic ceremony.

Princess Anne and Mark Phillips' Wedding, 1973

La Princesse Anne et Mark Phillips saluent la foule au balcon du Palais de Buckingham lors de leur mariage le 14 novembre 1973, Royaume-Uni. (Photo by Daniel SIMON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Princess Anne and Mark Phillips (Photo by Daniel SIMON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

When the Queen's only daughter got married, it was cause for huge celebration for the country (although a 25-year-old Prince Charles had to share his birthday with his sister's big day).

The horse-loving couple's wedding was very popular and although other royal broadcasts have had higher overall viewing figures, with 27.6 million tuning in it was the most watched programme on a single channel of all time.

Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer's Wedding, 1981

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 29: Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a wedding dress designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel and the Spencer family Tiara, ride in an open carriage, from St. Paul's Cathedral to Buckingham Palace, following their wedding on July 29, 1981 in London, England. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
Princess Diana and Prince Charles (Getty Images)

Think of a royal wedding, and most of us will picture Charles and Diana's extravagant St Paul's Cathedral ceremony.

Billed as the "wedding of the century", it was celebrated with street parties across the UK and 28.4 million watched on TV, but the couple eventually separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996 after 15 years of marriage.

Prince William and Kate Middleton's Wedding, 2011

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 13:  TRH Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge on the balcony at Buckingham Palace with Bridesmaids Margarita Armstrong-Jones (Right) And Grace Van Cutsem (Left), following their wedding at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011 in London, England.     (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)
Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)

It had been ages since we'd celebrated a major royal wedding before William and Kate's happy day, which sparked serious wedding fever.

Across 10 different channels broadcasting the wedding, there were 26 million viewers watching their vows at Westminster Abbey, bridesmaid Pippa Middleton's famous entrance, and the kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Wedding, 2018

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle leave St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle after their wedding. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images)
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle after their wedding. (PA Images via Getty Images)

Given recent events, it's hard to believe that it was just a few years ago when Harry and Meghan featured in a huge royal event.

Their Windsor Castle ceremony was watched by 18 million people, although Meghan has now claimed the 'real' wedding took place in their garden three days earlier — something the Archbishop of Canterbury has flatly denied.

Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson's Wedding, 1986

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 23:  Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and Prince Andrew, Duke of York  stand on the balcony of Buckingham Palace and wave at their wedding on July 23, 1986 in London, England. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
Fergie and Prince Andrew in 1986 (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)

Like Charles and Diana, the marriage didn't have a happy future, but the viewing public thoroughly enjoyed Prince Andrew's wedding to Fergie with 19 million viewers.

However, the celebratory atmosphere was short-lived as they separated in 1992 and were divorced in 1996.

Princess Diana's funeral, 1997

The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince William, Earl Spencer, Prince Harry and the Prince of Wales follow the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales in September 1997. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/WireImage)
The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince William, Earl Spencer, Prince Harry and the Prince of Wales follow the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales. (WireImage)

The nation was in mourning in 1997 when the much-loved Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris while being pursued by paparazzi.

An outpouring of public grief saw 32.1 million people pay their respects by tuning in, with around two billion viewers across the world making it the most-watched live TV royal broadcast of all time.

Young princes William and Harry walking in their mother's funeral procession was a heartbreaking sight that has remained a vivid memory for many of those who watched it.

Queen Mother's funeral, 2002

Britain's Queen Elizabeth, left, foreground, watches as the coffin containing the body of the Queen Mother is put into a hearse following her funeral service in Westminster Abbey. The Prince of Wales is at right. Background left is Prince William, and next to him is Prince Edward.   (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
The Queen at her mother's funeral. (PA Images via Getty Images)

The Queen Mother was an incredible 101 years old when she passed away and she even outlived her daughter, Princess Margaret, by seven weeks.

More than a million people lined the funeral route in person from Westminster Abbey to Windsor Castle, and 10 million people watched the ceremony and procession on TV.

Prince Charles' 1994 interview with Jonathan Dimbleby

File photo dated 29/06/94 of the Prince of Wales in conversation with Jonathan Dimbleby in his garden at Highgrove. As the bitter fallout from Megxit worsens, the monarchy's troubles have been labelled the War of the Waleses 2.0.
The Prince of Wales in conversation with Jonathan Dimbleby in his garden at Highgrove. (PA)

Between Charles and Diana's split and divorce, a BBC documentary Charles: The Private Man, the Public Role was watched by 13 million.

It may not have had the sheer number of revelations of more recent royal interviews, but one admission shocked viewers: Charles revealed that he had been unfaithful in his marriage, with a press conference announcement the next day that the woman in question was his now-wife Camilla Parker-Bowles. 

She divorced her husband, Andrew Parker-Bowles, the following year.

Princess Diana's 1996 interview with Martin Bashir

Martin Bashir interviews Princess Diana in Kensington Palace for the television program Panorama. (Photo by © Pool Photograph/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
Martin Bashir interviews Princess Diana. (Corbis via Getty Images)

Two years later, it was Diana's turn to set the record straight, with 23 million viewers seeing her utter the now famous line: "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."

It is still such an explosive interview 25 years on that it recently sparked a BBC investigation into the tactics employed by Martin Bashir and Panorama.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Oprah Winfrey interview, 2021

This photo illustration shows people wearing face masks, watch a televised conversation between Britain's Prince Harry with his wife Meghan Markle and US host Oprah Winfrey, in Arlington, Virginia March 7, 2021. - Britain's royal family on Sunday braced for further revelations from Prince Harry and his American wife, Meghan, as a week of transatlantic claim and counter-claim reaches a climax with the broadcast of their interview with Oprah Winfrey. The two-hour interview with the US TV queen is the biggest royal tell-all since Harry's mother princess Diana detailed her crumbling marriage to his father Prince Charles in 1995. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Harry and Meghan's Oprah Winfrey interview (AFP via Getty Images)

The 12.4 million viewers of Harry and Meghan's tell-all chat with Oprah are still reeling from claims that a senior royal made racist comments about their son Archie's potential skin tone, palace staff refused to help Meghan with her mental health crisis, and Prince Charles had been refusing to take Harry's calls.

In the aftermath of the interview, Piers Morgan was ousted from Good Morning Britain over comments about Meghan, the Royal Family came under scrutiny and Harry had to make the trip back to the UK alone for his grandfather's funeral.

Watch: William and Harry won't walk next to each other at Prince Philip's funeral